“We’ve had 14 families cancel in the past week,” related Carolina Cintra, accommodations manager at ILSC Vancouver. “Hosts with small children or who are elderly are afraid to take students from these countries.”

Cintra added that it was more work finding new homestays for these incoming students. “We call around to other families on our list but no one wants to host them,” Cintra said.

“Hosts with small children or who are elderly are afraid to take students from these countries.”

Tens of thousands of international students stay in homestays every year in Canada. Language schools, school districts and some colleges and universities rely on hosts to accommodate many students for both short-term and full-year programs.

Cintra says that ILSC is still open for students from all countries. ILSC has posted a notice on its website advising students about the precautions the school is taking. Throughout its schools, ILSC is encouraging students to wash their hands and is making hand sanitiser available.

Lyda Baquero, accommodation program manager at Academie Linguistique Internationale in Montreal, stated that a few of her hosts have cancelled.

In addition, some airport pickup staff are refusing to meet students from countries with outbreaks.

Anecdotal reports indicate enrolments at several language schools are down 20% with 2019 intake. With the busy summer season approaching, school managers have their fingers crossed that the outbreak will end or at least slow down.

In the K-12 sector, some short-term groups have postponed plans to come to Canada, indicated Bonnie McKie, executive director of the Canadian Association of Public Schools (caps-i).

A few school districts were expecting Japanese students this spring and were planning to send Canadian students to Japan in the summer as part of a reciprocal exchange. With the outbreak in that country, the Japanese school partner has decided to defer the program to 2021.

Many high school programs are urging full-time students from infected areas not to go to their home countries for spring break or summer vacation. They fear that homestay hosts will refuse to take them back when they return to Canada.

Having K-12 students stay for the summer will be complicated – they can enrol for summer school for part of the vacation period but will need activities for the remainder. In addition, it could take a toll on their mental health if they are unable to visit their parents.

For some, the outbreak brings back memories of the SARS outbreak. Ann Friesen, homestay coordinator at the English Language Centre at the University of Manitoba, recalls that Canada was hit in both directions.

Between November 2002 and July 2003, SARS killed 721 people in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. As a result, students from those areas could not come to Canada to study.

At the same time, Toronto had a serious SARS outbreak that took 44 lives. Even though SARS was confined to Toronto, programs across Canada saw a decline in enrolments, including the University of Manitoba.

“With SARS, there were the facts about the case. And then there were people’s perceptions and fears – these had the biggest impact on international education,” Friesen noted.

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